Kenneth McBride is an artist, writer and educator as well as being the founder of agora8
In his durational performance installations he is interested in art as a form of memorial that can activate collective memory. He is author of many works and has presented in diverse locations and contexts internationally, often operating beyond the traditional gallery structures and in a wide variety of impermanent or public spaces. Works often engage the full range of senses.
Close to the Clouds (2009). Warsaw. Original: Karel Miler (1977) Close to the Clouds. Prague.
We know the 1977 action by Karel Miler, ‘Close to the Clouds’ from a photograph that shows him jumping in mid-air. Still subject to gravity he is, nonetheless, momentarily released from earthly pressures.
My objective in reenacting this work was to share a cosmic space, for the briefest of moments, with all the artists I have researched throughout the project. It is a simple gesture where the image is surface but the sentiment is held within the body’s interiority.
Action: Jump into the clouds.
One Minute Silence for Performers (2009). Giswil. Original: Nenad Bogdanovic (1984). A Minute of Silence for Performances.
I had been thinking for a long time how I could memorialize those artists who lost their sanity during the Communist era. I realised that this action by Bogdanovic contained all the elements that I could hope to conceptualise myself. Traditionally the minute of silence marks a memorializing for someone or something. Bogdanovic’s action picks up this ritual and infuses it with a collectivism that allows him to portray a notion of family. It is an affectionate action towards a state of interdependence and solidarity between artists. Bogdanovic made the action to camera in 1984, a halfway point between Tito’s death in 1980 and the events of 1989. He is seen alone in front of a camera, holding a clock. He intended that it would assume its correct form as a dialogic ploy when others view the photograph. His unique minute is extended over time and space, and enters our present age, to show an artistic collectivism that is not dependent on a physical closeness to others but on a condition of empathy. It shares sensibilities with the activities of Ütö Gustáv who hoped that he would be able “one day... to show them to other artists” (Ütö, 2008).
Action: Stand in one spot. Ask for a minute’s silence for all the artists who lost their minds through doctrine and medical intervention. Place the clock on the floor.
Lenin in Warsaw (2009). Warsaw. Original: Balint Szombathy (1972). Lenin in Budapest. Budapest.
A major concern in approaching a reenactment of this work by Balint Szombathy was how to avoid a misinterpretation on the part of the viewer regarding what the image of Lenin represents. In post-Communist Europe there are a plethora of hostels, bars, and nightclubs named after aspects of Sovietology; Lenin, Propaganda, and Nostalgia, are just such a few examples. Thus, if I were to walk through the streets holding a poster of Lenin, as Szombathy did, an almost inevitable line of questioning about what I am trying to sell or promote could be reasonably anticipated, and therefore would muddy the work. Szombathy’s 1972 performance intended to deprive the image of Lenin of “its fetish function... by placing it within the mundane trivia of life in real socialism” (Djurić & Šuvaković, (eds.) 2003, p. 252). It thus sought a transgression into the realm of advertising. In our present age, however, ‘brand Lenin’ has a different appeal, and one that simultaneously contracts both nostalgia and erasure so that, as a result, Szombathy’s original meaning and sense would be lost. Lenin himself, or rather his body, is preserved in the Red Square mausoleum and been visited by more than 150 million since it was first displayed in 1924 (Pronina, 2000). He has become both a tourist attraction and a Communist relic of the simulacrum. I was interested in placing an iconic image of Lenin within a national museum’s Socialist Realism collection in a post-Communist country, to relocate Lenin to the cultural arm of Communist ideology. The action is a re-siting of Lenin within the context of a socio-cultural past, within the official house of relics, and far from the new fetish it has acquired in contemporary European neo-capitalist societies.
Action: Stand in the Socialist Realism room in Warsaw’s National Museum holding a board on which is an image of Lenin.
The otherwise nondescript town of Piotrkow Tribunalska was the site of the first Nazi ghetto in Poland. My interest lay in creating a work that did not refer explicitly to this context. I was concerned only with the acts of memory and memorializing victims of conflict. A meditation on the loss of generations as a result of all conflicts, generations past and never to be present.
Action: Walk at the same pace as I do with my son who only recently learned to walk. Find things that don’t belong in the ground, how to remember these, and how long can I touch them.
Tutaj Między Teraz (Here Between Now). (2008). BWA Tarnow, Poland. Duration, 4 hours.
Gallery text: The camera takes only a second to capture a moment in time, but within these moments there are multiplicities of context, of personal and collective histories and memories. The photographs for this performance were all taken by photographers employed in the service of the State and with the intention that they would be selected for publication as postcards. However, none of them were ever used because the authorities decided they did not best reflect the socialist society. In this respect we might consider them to be subversive, although that was never the intention.
Nevertheless a poetic subversion does exist in the eyes of the photographers who seemed more interested in capturing the remarkable and often mundane moments that make up everyday life.
We might wonder what were the subjects of the images thinking at the time, what did their actions involve that we cannot see, and, from where have they come, where do they go, and what are they doing now? Did they stay, did they migrate, are they alive, have they died, did they make new life? Likewise, what has happened to the places portrayed? Do they still exist, and what do they look like now?
At the same time as these photographs were taken I was growing up in Scotland. I remember new broadcasts and films portrayed Eastern Europe as a place that was always grey, always cold, the people miserable, poor and hungry. But the photographs in the performance show a very different side.
Both ideologies, then, appear significantly distorted.Here Between Now is a performance of collective memory between the audience and myself. This memory may assume a poetic remembrance, a real and actual social heritage beyond institutional control. Because these images are very different from the image of Poland that I experienced through the news and films of my youth I use my breath as a material to connect and commune with these histories and contexts.
I expect to reach a point where my body is exhausted. Maybe it will not be possible to complete the task of reanimating these histories through my breath: my body may fail at a certain limit. Or I may find strength in the meditation I have put myself into.
The timeframe is 4 hours.
Action: Stand close to one gallery wall and naked from waist up. Turn on recording of birdsongs. Birdsongs are like metaphors for histories - for nesting, community, migration, and faraway places. I wonder how many of these people, or their families, are now living their lives in different lands, in different continents. Turn on projector. Allow the front of the body to act as a surface for projected images. Each time a new image appears blow up another balloon. 240 images. 240 balloons, black and white. 1 balloon every minute for four hours.
The world around us is in constant flux. Only breath, memories, and hope sustain us and make us what we are: unique and individually human.
[Fig. 56,57,58,59,60] Requiem for The Line (2009). Giswil, Switzerland. Duration, 1 hour.
In a vast turbine hall there is a long table dressed in white cloth. In the middle of the table a mound of earth. At the end of the table on one side are a number of dying flies, some are already dead. At either end of the table, only white cloth. At each end of the table there is a wooden chair.
Action: Think of the “foreignness of the fly to any fixed order of things” (Groys, 1992). Remember Kabakov proposing that the Soviet Union was the “first modern society to disappear”.